On PAX East and (Their) Gaming Community

Gamers In Beta Podcast 049: PAX East Wra by BagoGames, on Flickr

Image source

Last month I went to the Penny Arcade Extravaganza–East. PAX East, they call it, and what that really means is: a big, nerdy gaming convention in Boston.

Five things about PAX:

There were a gratifying number of women present. There were a gratifying number of women not being ogled. PAX was the first convention to ban “booth babes,” which are, basically: models dressed scantily to sell products. Lacking these, most booths were still absolutely mobbed on account of the cool stuff they had on the table.

It’s a community, man. There were rules about swearing, about harassment, about general behavior. And people abided by those rules, happily. At one point, standing in a tremendously long line, I watched the Cookie Brigade come by (which was a couple folk selling bundles of chocolate chip cookies). “Come on, people,” said a young guy behind me. “It’s for children. Help them out.”

And we did. Us PAXers bought loads of those cookies.

Never again will I ever enter a PAX expo hall. I thought I knew “sensory overload.” I didn’t–not at all. The expo hall is an absolute smorgasbord of screens, pockets of overlaying music, sound effects and people, people, people. Very simply, you cannot stand still in the expo hall, because the crowd will move you along. It was a shame, because there was an immense amount to see, do, and try, but between lines and toeing the “I’m about to lose my mind” line, it wasn’t really possible to stay in there for more than ten minutes.

Young people in Boston don’t know what to do with cosplayers. Cosplay–dressing in costume–is everywhere at PAX, and in the streets, and in the bars. Spike Spiegels in lines to be IDed. Nondescript angels turning sideways to fit their wingspan through a narrow grocery doorframe. I got stuck one evening on the sidewalk behind a couple of local, young Bostonians–who were themselves stuck behind cosplayers. “I don’t know, man,” one B said to the other, “they’re here for some kind of nerd thing.” Ensue laughter.

But it wasn’t comfortable laughing. It was the sort of nervous laugh you put out when you don’t know what to make of something, when you can’t fit your hands all the way around it. I liked that, and I was grateful to those Rock Lees, those Daenerys’s who were just as happy to drink their fill a night while in character.

There’ll always be people who love you for your things. I loved PAX. I loved nerdcore rapper MC Frontalot and the Magic tournaments (I entered two!), the caddy-cornered groups on their handhelds, that communal frisson at a game unveiling, even the vastly overpriced pizza and nachos that I ate sitting on hard concrete.

And I loved finding a Thai place in somewhere-Boston, late at night, eating coconut ice cream with chipper twinkle-lights all around, going on and on about Orcs Must Die: Unchained, and that was okay.

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